Friday, October 2, 2009

Toffee Tomatoes

Toffee tomatoes? Surely you mean toffee apples, I hear you saying!

No, toffee tomatoes. And that just about sums up this blog.

Once, only once, I’ve encountered these deliciously amazing snacks. I was in a night market in Taipei, Taiwan, years ago, and I came across a stall selling tiny cherry tomatoes skewered five to a stick, glistening in their golden toffee shells.

Yes of course I bought a stick, and you know what? They were fantastic – the acid softness of the tomatoes turned out to be a much better foil for the crisp sugary coating than a toffee apple could ever be.

In Lhasa, and again in the Tibetan outpost of Lanzhou in central China – actually on the far side of the Tibetan plateau – I was presented with fried potatoes drizzled with – you guessed it! – toffee. Before you gag at the thought, I have to tell you it was good. Very good.

No, it was great! For a carb-lover, it has to be the ultimate hit. The toffee had put a crunchy lattice over the fat-crisped potatoes and the sweetly starchy combo was something I will always remember. It was almost impossible not to keep sneaking one last sliver of toffee and a spoonful of potato from the communal plate.

The Chinese are pretty fond of toffee really, and I have many times seen Chinese red dates dipped in toffee (again, arranged on a skewer) and sold from roadside stalls, but those I just can’t come at. The unalloyed sweetness makes my stomach contract at the thought. They remind me of a fad I had a few years ago when I would dip whole strawberries in toffee as a garnish for desserts. They had to be done at the last minute, though (probably why the fad was shortlived) because they needed to be served immediately, before the moisture of the strawberries dissolved the toffee.

Much more attractive were slices of kiwi fruit and other fruits dipped in toffee and displayed like fragments of stained glass at the Wangfujiang night market in Beijing. Certainly any of these were a much more attractive option than the centipedes and snakes on sticks just a few tables away!

But in case you think this blog will be a toffee-lovers’ paradise, a dentist’s dream come true, you’re wrong.

Food is of huge interest to everyone on this planet. Sadly many never have enough to live comfortably. Some of the rest of the world’s population spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to deal with the effects of too much of it.

And me? I travel. And eat. And cook. Sometimes all at once. But more often I travel, I investigate, I get ideas. Then I come home and get creative in my own kitchen and try out things I have seen or read about or dreamt up. At times the results are good.

These truly amazing and wonderful foods – and combinations of foods – I would like to share with you in this blog.

Like toffee tomatoes.

Allow me one last sugar indulgence and then I’ll stop.


The ultimate easy-as recipe. Massive wow-power when used to dress up a simple dessert. Spike a slice of cake with a fragment. Crumble it over custard or cream or fruit. There are dozens more uses than this recipe’s ONE (yes, one!) ingredient.

Line a baking tray with foil and scatter caster sugar evenly over it. Don’t have a very thick layer, just enough to cover it well. Place in a preheated moderate oven and cook for 10 minutes or so until it has turned golden all over. Guess what? You have made toffee of course, but it has to be the easiest way ever. No brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Let the tray cool on a rack. Remove the toffee from the foil when cool and break up to use any way you wish. What you can’t use will also obediently wait for another day if you seal it up tight so the moist air won’t destroy it.

My favourite way to use it is broken up on top of an angel food cake that I make. It looks sensational amongst the cream and berries and always gets compliments which I feel a bit embarrassed about. Because as you now know, it takes so little time and effort.


  1. Hi,
    I also saw toffee tomatoes in Taipei, at the Dragon Boat festival, but I didn't eat any, having stuffed myself on every other thing.
    Nine years later, I'm faced with hosting a 5yo childrens' party and trying to reach that balance between healthy and sugar (ie parents and kids). It occurred to me that toffee tomatoes would be just the thing.
    I was hoping your blog would tell me how to make them, but I'll be bookmarking it anyhow.

  2. Hi Jane,
    I haven't tried it, but I would be inclined to make some toffee and pour it into a shallow pan. I would thread cherry tomatoes on wooden skewers and roll them in the toffee to cover completely, then stand them to harden, or place them on baking paper until firm.
    I'd love to know how they go if you do try them for the party.

  3. Hi Sally,

    I did a practice run this morning, using this recipe (I've never made toffee so I needed a recipe):

    I'm very chuffed with the results. There's enough toffee there for two punnets of cherry tomatoes. As it's for a children's party, I just put one tomato per toothpick. The tomato cooked a little so when I bite into it, it is lovely and juicy.

    One toffee tomato is a big mouthful for me, so I don't know how the 5yos will go. I made a toffee apple for my daughter for comparison, and she prefered the tomato, the apple being too big. I agree, as I am serving other food.


  4. Well done Jane! That sounds just like the toffee tomatoes I remember from Taiwan - just a little softened and delicious inside the toffee. Your daughter's friends will love them.

  5. Well, I muffed that. The kids didn't touch them, and the adults barely would either. Only one adult said she liked them, and I suspect she was just being nice.

    I got a punnet of yellow pear-shaped/teardrop tomatoes. They worked fine, being about the same size cherry tomatoes (yet easier to put in the mouth). I also got some much smaller grape tomatoes, but they overcooked in the toffee and tended to fall off the toothpick.

    My second mistake was that I burnt the toffee a little. I'm sure the adults noticed this, and even I didn't like them as much because of this.

    I also should have thought more about how to sell them to the kids. I thought they would just hear the word toffee and go for it. Some said they didn't like tomatoes. For others, they were just too strange. They didn't follow my daughter's lead. Maybe I should have described them as toffee apples, but smaller. But maybe that wouldn't have worked either.